Four Miles of Fun

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Published on: Jun. 2, 1999

Last revision: Nov. 3, 2010

Patti Hobbs has several disabilities but a lack of determination isn't one of them. That was evident as a volunteer lifted her from a wheelchair and placed her in a canoe. No one had told the Springfield woman that a person with cerebral palsy and a hearing impairment shouldn't go paddling.

"I wouldn't let anybody tell me that I couldn't do this," she says.

Neither would any other participants or organizers of this fourth annual float trip on the Niangua River for people with disabilities. This Springfield-based event had several sponsors, including a store called River Maddness, the Springfield Park Board, the Southwest Center for Independent Living and the Conservation Department. The canoe trip doesn't have an official name, but it has a good reputation.

"People love this trip," says Leatta Bergeson, an access specialist. "Obviously word has spread because we started out with two people going on the float trip and now we're at 18."

As well as serving as a supervisor, Bergeson is one of the people with disabilities who takes part. Her disabilities are from birth and affect three limbs. Other floaters have Down's syndrome, autism or various types of physical disabilities.

But for many, their biggest disability is having to live within walls built by peers with wider ranges of abilities but narrower imaginations.

"We know they can do this and they know they can do it, but others don't think they can do it," says former River Maddness co-owner Tom Lewis. "Primarily, they're limited in the things they can do only by the able-bodied public."

"A lot of times, their peers and family members have told them they cannot go out and do these things," Bergeson says. "Well, here we are, going out and doing these things."

The procedure for this float was the same as for the three previous trips: Each person with a disability is in the front of the canoe while an experienced paddler sits in the stern. In most cases, passenger and paddler know each other well. They met at training classes at Doling Park pond in Springfield in the eight weeks preceding the float trip.

At these weekly sessions on the pond, the novice floaters learned the basics of paddling--how to steer, how to sit and, most important, how to stay calm because there is no reason to be afraid. This is an important message to get across to parents and relatives, as well as the soon-to-be paddlers.

"You have a

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